Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico) has filed suit over the Attorney General's office decision to require a steep fee for a FOIA request asking for documents related to Ken Cuccinelli's connection to Star-Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams.
McEachin filed the request asking for a broad search of the entire office for any communication on Williams. The Attorney General's office claims a search of the some 400 employees in the office would be timely and expensive and in order complete the request it would require a cost of at least $15,000.
Cuccinelli's staff offered on two different occasions to sit down with McEachin to narrow the search to for the specific information he was interested in. McEachin considered that request, but then determined that he wasn't interested in the search being any less than what he initially asked for.
"We considered the narrowing, to make it more narrow- but I think the request is appropriate," McEachin said during a Tuesday morning press conference. "Why do I have to pay for it, why does the public have to pay for it, when from all the reports I've seen- apparently the Cuccinelli campaign, has paid for nothing?"
McEachin's request is based on this Washington Post story which details a lengthy timeline that explains Cuccinelli's relationship with Williams. The story was designed to show that Cuccinelli worked to keep his personal relationship with Williams separate from his work as Attorney General. McEachin believes the campaign was given special access to internal documents provided by the Attorney General's office to back up the claims in the timeline.
The communication at the center of this controversy is this memo provided by the Cuccinelli campaign to Post reporter Roz Helderman. The memo breaks down Cuccinelli's relationship with Williams. The Post then turned the memo into a lengthy story with in-depth graphics to illustrate the timeline.
According to Brian Gottstein, the spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, only one document from the office was provided to Helderman and was sent through a companion request of both offices. That document was an email from then Chief of Staff Chuck James discussing the status of the ongoing prosecution of Todd Schneider the former Executive Chef who recently cut a deal to avoid a trial.
The rub comes from a key line in the memo that has Democrats wondering if the campaign was given special information not released to the general public.
The campaign is providing the following information, which has been provided and verified by the candidate, his financial adviser and current and former members of the Attorney General’s Office.
(from memo to the Washington Post)
Gottstein said if McEachin is looking for all the documents provided to the Post regarding that story the e-mail is all he will find. He did provide that document to me. You can see it here.
The information in the memo was compiled independently by the campaign through discussions with Cuccinelli and his associates. Gottstein confirmed the validity of the information that was related to the AG's office after the memo was written. In particular, the middle section of the memo entitled "AG’s Knowledge of Allegations Brought To the OAG By Schneider’s Attorneys".
The discussions that led to the confirmation of that information was not contained in documents and according to Gottstein is therefore not available through a FOIA request.
Gottstein also said that he has provided McEachin, at no charge, the result of every single FOIA request regarding Star- Scientific that the office has responded to.
McEachin believes it is not that simple. He contends the campaign was given special access to the AG's office that the average person or member of the media would not enjoy. That is why he is pushing to have as much information as possible made available.
"It is not what I say was given to the campaign, the campaign said that we have this timeline and it was verified by the Attorney General's Office," McEachin said. "My assertion is that the Attorney General's Office is involved in this is through media reports."
The AG's office disagrees. The final decision will now be with a judge.
McEachin's full press conference can be seen below.